Formula 1 came to the heart of Manchester on Bank Holiday Monday as Jenson Button thrilled fans racing through the streets in a spectacular one-off event for the city.
An estimated 60,000 spectators lined the damp streets as Button, fresh from his podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, got behind the wheel of a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 F1â„¢ car and sped along a purpose-built 900 metre track along Deansgate, John Dalton Street and Albert Square.
Starting and finishing outside the Hilton Hotel on Deansgate, with a turning point outside the town hall, it took the 2009 world champion just seconds to complete each run. With the deafening sound of the F1 engine echoing across the city, he completed several burnouts and donuts to the delight of the crowd before finishing with a parade lap to wave to his fans.
“Rain's normally something I don't mind in the races,” Button told reporters when asked about the slippery conditions.
“Obviously with so many fans here you don't want it to rain, but still there are thousands of people here, so it's pretty tricky, especially in the wet because there's no grip to spin the car around. These guys are just so close they can almost touch the car!”
Asked if he thought Manchester could ever hold a Grand Prix event, he replied: “It's a little bit narrow I'd say, but a big thank you to Manchester for letting us put this event on. It's not very often you close the streets of any city, but it's very special for us to be able to do this in Manchester, it's a big event!”
His appearance was part of the Vodafone VIP Live event, a three-day celebration of the sport and an initiative to give more people the chance to experience F1 first-hand. Previous Vodafone events have taken place in central London and at the McLaren Technology Centre in Surrey.
A Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Fan Zone was created in Albert Square where fans could find out more about the 31-year-old British driver during a Q&A session and experience the thrill of motor-racing for themselves with a host of fan experiences, including an outdoor karting track, an F1 simulator, podium photo opportunities and a pit stop challenge. A replica F1 pit garage was also created in the forecourt of the Hilton Deansgate, where fans, including boxer Amir Khan, gymnast Beth Tweddle and former England cricketer Michael Vaughan,were given the chance to get a close-up view of what really happens during an F1 weekend.